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Some Early Adventists Struggled With the Trinity Doctrine

Posted Dec 31, 2011 by Frank Klin in Adventist Issues
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In the Discussion Questions on Friday, January 6 of the 2012 “Glimpses of Our God” Sabbath School lessons on the trinity we read the following:

 "Though some early Adventists struggled with the doctrine, our church today has taken a firm and unrelenting stand on this teaching."

 As a non-trinitarian I am in agreement that some early Adventists did struggle with the trinity doctrine. Allow me to share why. When I began to study the truth of the Father and Son in Scripture I also set out to discover what the pioneers of our faith wrote on the subject. I learned that as the pillars were established our pioneers spoke out against the trinity. The church now teaches, “They were against the Catholic trinity.” “The Adventist faith supports the true Biblical trinity,”

 Based on what others say about her would Ellen White fit the criteria as someone who may have struggled with the trinity? Turning to her writings I found beautiful harmony on the truth about God from the beginning of her ministry to the end without a single mention of the trinity or triune god. We have no documentation from her of a personal internal struggle over the doctrine, so I have eliminated her is as a candidate. Yes, a few of her statements seemed puzzling and could lead one to think she had trinitarian leanings. Well meaning people have the idea she had always secretly been a trinitarian because of her Methodist upbringing and when her husband passed away she "subtly" let the church know what she had believed all along when she wrote “The Desire of Ages.” Here are a couple of those voices.

 “But,” some say, “the Adventist pioneers did not believe in the Trinity.” Actually, some Adventist pioneers did believe in the Trinity and others did not. Ellen White was one Adventist pioneer. She had before that been a Methodist. Methodists are Trinitarians. Ellen White throughout her life also believed that God is one, and that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three distinct persons. So I think we are in good company when we hold to this as Bible truth. (Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick, First Comforter, sermon given at Northern Idaho Regional Campmeeting, Bonners Ferry, ID, USA, June, 2011)

 Arian views were quite pervasive in the writings of early Seventh-day Adventism. In fact, it was possibly almost as widespread as convictions regarding the imminence of Christ's return. It has been hard for many 20th Century Adventists to grasp this fact in the light of the complete and official triumph of Trinitarianism in the movement in this century. (Woodrow Whidden, Arianism, Adventism and Methodism: The Healing of Trinitarian Teaching and Soteriology, from a paper presented to The Tenth Oxford, MI (USA) Institute of Methodist Theological Studies Working Group: History of Wesleyan Traditions: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries August 12-22, 1997 Oxford University Somerville College)


What then is to be made of Adventism's simultaneous emergence out of both unwitting legalism and a rather strongly held Arian stance? Clear-cut answers are a bit hard to come by in this area of Adventist history, but it does appear that the following factors were the most decisive: (Woodrow Whidden, Salvation Pilgrimage, Ministry Magazing, April, 1998 & paper presented to The Tenth Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies Working Group)

1)The obvious spiritual needs of the church: here both James and Ellen White, later supported by Jones and Waggoner, took the lead. We have no record that they sat up one day and said: "This Arianism business is simply killing our people with legalistic attitudes that are bringing on a terrible spiritual condition in the church!" What seems more apparent is that they sensed the severe dangers inherent in the obviously legalistic trends within the movement, began to study more carefully the causes of the condition and then began to instinctively sense the need for a more Trinitarian undergirding of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). (Ibid)

This basic phenomenon is especially evident in Ellen White. I have simply not found any instances where she self-consciously set out to reflect on the soteriological implications of the full deity of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit. She, however, seemed to be able to draw not only on Scripture, but also on the resources of her Methodist matrix. While she never admitted any direct debt to the Wesleyan/Methodist Tradition for her soteriology, it was clearly her baseline in her ministry from the very beginning. This is especially true of her attempts to keep a balance between the primacy of justification by faith, while at the same time giving great emphasis to sanctification and Holiness of heart and life. It appears that the same might be said for the Trinitarian consciousness raising power of her Wesleyan/Methodist background. (Ibid)

 If we take the ideas that were just presented to their logical conclusion then Adventists are trinitarian because Methodists are. Methodists also believe in Sunday sacredness and the immortality of the soul. Where should we stop? Continuing along those lines will evidence show that Adventists are also trinitarian because the Church of England is?  Read on.

  Since we cannot substantiate that Sister White drew on the sources of some “Methodist matrix,” or a purported “Trinitarian consciousness” then we must not state these ideas as fact. From personal research I have not uncovered writings from any other early Adventist non-trinitarian documenting a struggle to accept the trinity. So how am I in agreement with the statement from the Sabbath School lesson?   

 Interestingly we do have written evidence of some early trinitarian Adventists who did struggle with what the Adventist church officially taught about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that is the reason for this treatise. That premise is why I can agree that “some early Adventists struggled with the doctrine” and it is because of their influence that over time our church could take a “firm unrelenting stand” on this teaching today.  Let me introduce you to two such men. While many of you will be familiar with these men, watch as we unfold a fascinating account of influence and conditioning that may not have been revealed in this way before.

Herbert Camden Lacey (1871-1950), was born in England and raised in India and Tasmania. In 1888 the entire family joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Lacey, who was a student in an Episcopal college in Hobart at that time, then traveled to lacey2the United States to study at Healdsburg College, forerunner of Pacific Union College, where he completed the ministerial program in 1892. (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, etc)

He next enrolled at Battle Creek College and graduated from the classical course in 1895, at age 24. Immediately following graduation, he married Lillian Yarnell of Orange, California. The day after the wedding, they left for Australia to assist Ellen White in establishing a new training school at Cooranbong in New South Wales — now Avondale. (Ibid)

Later he served on the faculty at Healdsburg and as President of the forerunner of today's Newbold College in England. He taught in a series of American Colleges and also spent time in the Far East. Later he pastored churches in New York and Southern California and was also, for a time, professor of Biblical Exegesis at what we now know as Loma Linda University. (Ibid)


LeRoy Edwin Froom (1890-1974), author, editor, scholar and church leader. Froom founded Ministry magazine and was its editor for 22 years. A specialist in historical research, Froom also taught historical theology each summer at Andrews University. His written legacy is significant and includes the four volume The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, the two volume, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, [and] Movement of Destiny… **Froom’s The Coming of the Comforter (1928) [was] the first book by an Adventist to feature the Holy Spirit as a Person. (synopsis of the entry in the SDA Encyclopedia, **George R. Knight, A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-Day Adventist Beliefs)froom3  

Froom studied at Pacific Union College and Walla Walla College, now University, before graduating from Washington Training Center, now Columbia Union College. He began his career as a pastor and then trained to be an editor at Pacific Press Publishing Association. He was living in Takoma Park, Maryland, and working on a final book, The Holy Spirit - Executive of the Godhead, when he died at age 83. (Wayne Hooper's Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal)

L. E. Froom was also one of the authors of Questions on Doctrine. No other book has aroused so much controversy in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church... Published in 1957 as a direct result of the dialogues between evangelicals Walter Martin and Donald Grey Barnhouse and a select group of Adventist leaders, Questions on Doctrine was hailed initially as the apology par excellence of Adventism by its writers and promoters. However, when the book came out, it created great uproar among Adventists who questioned whether it accurately represented Adventist theology and the writings of Ellen White, in particular. (Andrews University Website, Questions On Doctrine Fiftieth Anniversary announcement )

In a letter dated August 8, 1945 and written by Elder Froom to brother Lacey he asks specifically about “the beginnings of the discussion of Trinitariansim versus Arianism” as it pertains to the topic of certain Ellen White statements, most of which appeared in the Desire of Ages.

 Dear Brother Lacey:… Elder Andreasen has been under the impression that when Mrs. White began to write those statements…that relate to the eternal existence of Christ and His oneness with the Father through all past time that there was no agitation or discussion of any sort.

 On the contrary, Elder D. E. Robinson of the White Estate, is under the impression, I believe from something told him by you, that over at Cooranbong around 1898 or 1899 you were giving a series of studies on the Trinity and were challenged by some of the brethren…

 I assure you that I am not seeking to create any difficulty or to indulge in any agitation. It is simply a matter of information in the background of discussions of Arianism and Trinitarianism which periodically arise.

  A letter dated August 30, 1945 brought Elder Lacey’s reply to Froom which states there was no special controversy or agitation over the trinity relating to Sister White’s statements in the Desire of Ages about the eternal existence of Christ and His oneness with the Father. He also shares why:

 “As to any special controversy, or agitation, over the matter of the Trinity, I cannot recall anything serious at all. I have always known that Elder Uriah Smith was an Arian in belief, (‘Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation’ reveal that!) and that our people undoubtedly generally followed that view.”

As we continue with Lacey’s letter we are able to document where a personal conflict over the doctrine of the trinity came from and what angle the conflict related to specifically:

 But we, as a family, had been brought up in the Church of England, and were naturally, may I say, Trinitarians. We just believed it, subconsciously, and I do not remember our ever discussing the question with the brethren who brought us into the Truth, Elder M. C. Israel, and young brother W. L. H. Baker. One thing I do recall is my mother’s remarking on the strange language used by our ministers in speaking of the Holy Ghost as ‘it’ and ‘its’ as though they thought of the Holy Spirit as an influence, instead of as a Person. That seemed very strange to her, and in a measure to me also (I was about 17 then). Now this bring[s] me to the second point in my letter; The angle in which I was involved in that convention at Cooranbong was not the Eternity of the Son, but the Personality of the Holy Ghost.

 Being raised trinitarian through the Church of England seeds had been planted concerning the “Personality of the Holy Ghost” which made him doubt what the Adventist church was teaching on the subject. He plainly states why this would be:

 As I already stated, I was really a Trinitarian at heart. And I went through Healdsburg College, and Battle Creek College, with a dim sort of a feeling that there was something wrong about our teaching on the Ministry and Personality of the Holy Ghost. (Of course, that term was never used, except in reading from the Bible,—it was always ‘Holy Spirit’ and referred to as ‘it.’) And then in the Testimonies I noticed that, practically everywhere, the same language was used,— ‘Holy Spirit’ ‘it’ ‘its’ etc., as though the ‘Spirit of God’ were an influence, instead of a Person, the Third Person of the Godhead.

 Inadvertently the Adventist church actually played a part in germinating Lacey’s seeds of trinitarianism relating to the Holy Spirit through the influence of a source outside the church:

 During my college course at Battle Creek, in March 1894, I attended as a delegate from the College the second international convention of the Student Volunteer Movement of Foreign Missions, held at Detroit Michigan. There I heard such men as Mr. J.R. Mott, Mr. Robert Speer, and such Spirit-filled servants of the Lord as J. Hudson Taylor, A.T. Pierson, A.J. Gordon, with Miss Geraldine Guinness, and others. I remember too how Sr. Georgia Burruss (…who was also a delegate at that convention, and who became afterwards our first woman missionary to India, I believe) was impressed by the spiritual teachings and appeals of these men. I recall her saying something like this: Brother Lacey, these men are not Sabbath-keepers, as we understand it, but the Lord is certainly using them mightily: I have never felt the deep moving of the Spirit of God upon my heart, as I have here at this convention. And I couldn’t help agreeing with her exactly.

 Well now, one thing I noticed vividly; the emphasis placed by all these teachers upon the ministry of the ‘Holy Ghost’ in our lives as God’s servants and missionaries, a ministry as of a real, definite, divine person, always with us, and in us, and as revealed in the Book of Acts, and presented everywhere throughout the Epistles and the Revelation."

Who were these individuals that left their imprint on Herbert Lacey and Sister Burruss? Would you like to be a delegate at the Convention? Praise the Father you can be courtesy of the book, “The student missionary enterprise: addresses and discussions of the Second International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, held at Detroit, Mich., Feb. 28 to Mar. 4, 1894where we learn one thousand and eighty-two student delegates, from two hundred and ninety-four institutions of learning in the United States and Canada, were in attendance. The key-note of the Convention was “The enduement of the Holy Ghost for service.”

We will now give an introduction to each person that brother Lacey named and share a few of the thoughts they presented to the young people in attendance at the Convention.

John R. Mott (1865–1955), By the time Mott was 32, he was called "Protestantism's leading statesman," at 58, the "father of the young people of the world," and at age 81, in 1946, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize… It was evangelistic passion that made Mott his generation's most popular evangelist to university students and the promoter of the emerging ecumenical Mott_webmovement. (Mark Galli, John R. Mott: Evangelist and Ecumenist, Christianity Today, January 2000)

The New-York-born-and-Iowa-raised Mott was nurtured in a devout Methodist home. He was led into "a reasonable and vital faith" at Cornell University after hearing and speaking personally with C. T. Studd, the renowned cricket-player-turned-evangelist (and one of the "Cambridge Seven" who later worked with Hudson Taylor in China). Mott was struck by Studd's admonition, "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Seek ye first the kingdom of God." That same year, at the 1886 Northfield (Massachusetts) Student Conference led by Dwight Moody, Mott stepped up and became one of the 100 men who volunteered for foreign missions. (Ibid)

Mott's destiny, however, lay not in foreign missions but in evangelizing college students and inspiring others to foreign mission work. He became college secretary of the YMCA in 1888, when the organization was consciously evangelical and aggressively evangelistic. That same year, he helped organize the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (SVM), a branch of the YMCA and YWCA… (Ibid)

In 1893 he helped found the Foreign Missions Conference of North America, and in 1910, he helped pull together and chair the massive Edinburgh Missionary Conference—its 1,200 delegates represented 160 mission boards or societies. (Ibid)

All these movements, and a few more with which Mott was involved, eventually blossomed at the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948. Mott was not only officially named honorary president at the inaugural session, he has since earned the informal title of "father of the ecumenical movement." (Ibid)

As a founder of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions twenty-nine year old Mott introduced the speakers, conducted a consecration service, read various reports and offered prayers at the Detroit Convention. His appeals and calls to the delegates recorded in the book fit well with the theme, “The enduement of the Holy Ghost for service.”

Robert E. Speer (1867–1947), ** “one of the major figures in Presbyterian and ecumenical church history.” In college, Speer was profoundly influenced by Dwight L. Moody, the preeminent evangelist of the day, and committed himself to foreign missions. **(John F. Piper, Biography of Robert E. Speer, 2000)speer

 Twenty-seven year old Speer gave the opening address of the Convention. Incidentally he did not speak on the Holy Spirit. His message was Christ centered with a study on “Paul, the Great Missionary Example.” Here is an excerpt:

 There are two things about Paul’s message which impress us: the first was the wholeness of it…The second thing was its simplicity. It was so simple that a little child could preach his gospel. "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified " ---that was the burden of it all. "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." Fellow students, that is our Gospel. Don't preach a system of truth. What good is a system of truth anyhow? Don't preach salvation; don't preach redemption. Preach the Saviour. Preach the Redeemer. What is wanted the world round is not more truth; it is a Divine Person. What is wanted is not a larger doctrine; it is the advent of the Divine life. And however much we shall fail, as we surely shall fail, if we go preaching a large and concrete and well-connected system, we shall never fail if we go preaching the simple, the omnipotent, the irresistible Christ.

Brother Spear also gave the closing address, once again focusing on Jesus.  Here is a portion:

 [T]hose of us who have caught that voice, and have resolved in these days to follow, have learned much if we have decided also to learn of Him. How marvellously He will teach us in that school of prayer which He opened years and years ago when His disciples, anxious to be taught to pray…came to Him saying, "Lord, teach us to pray." How marvellously He will teach us in that school of humility in which He taught when He took a little child and told them, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." And how lovingly He will teach us to serve, as He repeats in our lives the scene at the supper, and in our ears His divine words, "I am among you as He that serveth." If we have learned to be infants in the kindergarten of the Master teacher, we have learned where and how to learn.

  But He has a deeper word even than this for the man that will take it from Him: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." It will be much to us to gain the larger power of the Holy Spirit. It will be more, fellow students, if any of us have not yet learned to abide in Christ, to obey that message of His and say, "Yes, Thou true vine, I will abide in Thee." Very few of us will ever be conspicuous in Christian service. Very few of us will ever be picked out as men and women of exceptional gifts whom God has used in marvellously exceptional ways. We must be content to bear that fruit which comes from simple abiding in Him, and from our trust and confidence in His Word, which He has said shall not return unto Him void…

Fellow students, are we Christ? Is Christ re-incarnated in us? Have you been mistaken for Him? Have any of the things that we have done been mistaken for His deeds, so that men crossing our paths have said, "We have crossed the path of the Christ?" Eighteen hundred years ago He went away, but He is not away. In thousands of lives still, in the life of every one who has caught the spirit of His life, Christ lives again. And as we go, fellow students, let it not be the sense of a large enthusiasm begotten by these large numbers; let it not be the strength of a deep feeling stirred by the sweeping of His hand over the heartstrings of our lives in the days of this gathering, ---let it be the living, abiding, enduring, undeparting Christ, re-living His Divine life in our lives, that shall help us to serve Him. And then what matters the end? What matters it if a life shall be laid on African shores before the lips ever begin to speak one of Africa's tongues? What matter if on every isle of every sea some volunteer shall lay down his life to rest until the footsteps of our Lord gleam gloriously at His reappearing? What matter, if we are living Christ?

  James Hudson Taylor (1832–1905), was born in Yorkshire, England. After a brief period of teenage skepticism, he came to Christ by reading a Christian tract in his father's apothecary store. A few months after his conversion, he consecrated himself wholly to the Lord's work. He sensed the Lord was calling him to China. In 1853, the twenty-one-year-old Taylor sailed forHudsonTaylorin1893 China as an agent of a new mission society. (Compiled from biographies by Diane Severance, Ed Reece and wikipedia)

During his total of 51 years in the China mission field he founded the China Inland Mission (CIM). The society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who began 125 schools and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces. (Ibid)

In 1887 Taylor went back to England to speak at the Keswick Convention and challenge recruits to join him in China. Taylor was about to return when urgent invitations from Henry Frost came to visit America in December. He decided to go and on his first trip to America he preached at Dwight Moody's Northfield student conference and at the Niagara Bible Conference in Ontario. As he went back to China in the Fall of 1888, he was able to take 14 candidates along from America. (Ibid)

In May, 1900, Taylor was brought to the very doors of death by the terrible news of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, the resulting disruption of the work and murder of hundreds of missionaries along with the native Christians, and as the telegrams came telling of riots and massacres, he gasped, "I cannot read, I cannot pray, I can scarcely think...but I can trust." (Ibid)

This elder brother in missions work spoke passionately to the young people gathered for the Convention about an earnest personal desire:

 And I do earnestly desire that the result of this Convention to many, many of you shall be, that you may know the Holy Ghost as a living bright reality, as a distinct personality, as a lover, as a friend. It was many a year after I was a Christian before the Holy Ghost was more than an influence to me. But it is so blessed to know Him as a person, to know Him as a guide, as a leader, a mighty power, always at hand, and ready to meet our infirmities and to help and to use us. Led by that infallible guide you will never be led astray, and oh, He will throw such a light on the precious Word of God as will make it to you a new book altogether.  

 Arthur Tappan Pierson (1837–1911), was an American Presbyterian pastor, early fundamentalist leader, and writer who preached over 13,000 sermons, wrote over fifty books, and gave Bible lectures as part of a transatlantic preaching ministry Tappanthat made him famous in Scotland and England. Pierson spoke with D. L. Moody at his Northfield Conferences… (wikipedia)

Dr. Pierson attended the Keswick Convention in England, more often than any other speaker from America, attending regularly from 1897 to 1909. He dominated the Convention with his unique abilities and spiritual and intellectual power. (Pleasant Places Author Biographies)

As a missionary speaker A.T. Pierson influenced Robert Elliott Speer, Samuel Zwemer, and John R. Mott to give their lives to missions. (wikipedia)

At the Convention brother Pierson traces his history of the “forward movement.”

 There never was a movement in history more directly traceable to the Father of us all than this Student Volunteer Movement… Beloved brethren and fellow-students and fellow-evangelists, all through the history of the Church of God some of the true sayings of God have become the signal-cry and the trumpet-peal of the forward movement. In the apostolic days there were five words in the Greek which had more continual and incessant use than almost any others. And some think when Paul said he would rather speak five words with his understanding than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue, he referred to the five words that almost immediately succeed this utterance: "Christ died for our sins." When Luther stepped out from the convent gates and sounded the clarion peal of the great Reformation, there were these words, alike from the Greek Testament, that became to him the rallying cry: "The just shall live by faith." It is a curious fact that just eight hundred years ago this year 1894, Peter the Hermit, that emaciated dwarf, reduced to a skeleton by his austerities, swept over Europe north of the Alps and roused the Teutonic tribes for the first assault on the Saracens by two words taken from the Vulgate, “Deus Vult.”  

Deus vult (Latin for "God wills it") was the cry of the people at the declaration of the First Crusade by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095. (wikipedia)  

The Higher Life movement is sometimes referred to as the Keswick movement, because it promoted Christian holiness at conventions in Keswick, England, which continue to this day. Its name comes from a book by William Boardman, entitled The Higher Christian Life, which was published in 1858. (Ibid)

Ellen White knew well of William Boardman and his book. See the section An Egg, Banana and Shampoo in Adventist Trinity Primer.

Higher life teaching promotes passivity or “quietism.”  “Let go and let God,” has been taken to extremes by a number of higher life teachers.  William Boardman and C. G. Trumbull have been two of its most vocal proponents. Victory supposedly can only become habitual when passivity is cultivated.  Passivity is what quietists think is the means of releasing the Spirit. Personal initiative of any sort is attributed to the flesh. Passivity allows God to work through the person by promptings and impressions.  Annihilation of selfhood is key.  When self is out of the way, “the divine life” can flow freely through the individual.  William Boardman was also a proponent of the “sliding scale” view of sin.  The claims of God’s law were adjusted or “graduated” according to the sinner’s ability. (Jay Wegter, A Critique of the Higher Life Movement)

Adoniram Judson Gordon (1836–1895), was an American Baptist preacher, writer, composer, and founder of Gordon College and Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary. He was a close friend of D. L. Moody, and assisted him in his work in Boston. He also was a frequent speaker at Moody’s Northfield  Conferences. (wikipedia, etc)gordon_adoniram

  Many aspects of the Holy Ghost are brought to the fore in the address by A.J. Gordon.  You will discover later in this record that the gentleman was well-versed on the subject.  

Now, dwell just a moment upon the Word. I believe that this Scripture not only was inspired but is inspired; that the Spirit of God lives and breathes in its letters and sentences. Just as my blood is in every part of my body, the Spirit of God is in every part of this Word. I hold in my hand a seed, and that seed has in it the waving harvest. I hold in my hand an acorn, and that acorn holds the oak ---the wide-striking roots and the far-reaching branches all wrapped up in the acorn. Now, we have that marvellous characterization of the Scriptures as "the incorruptible seed of the Word."    

Beloved brethren, at this late hour and after a weary day I am very well aware that the Spirit alone can lift us up to the high plane on which I desire to speak very briefly to-night; and I pray that the Spirit will help us to consider the great theme of "The Spirit in His Work and Preparation for the Missionary Enterprise."

 …Just as Jesus Christ was anointed with the Holy Ghost that He might be the first great missionary, so every one of us must have the same preparation if we are to follow in His steps and worthily accomplish the work which He has committed to our hands. Think just a moment of what preparation He had for His great missionary work. Begotten of the Holy Ghost, at twelve years of age so instructed in the Holy Scriptures that He was able to dispute with the doctors in the temple. And then that beautiful manhood! What more did He need? And yet we find Him, before entering upon His public ministry, praying at the Jordan, seeking now the enduement of the Holy Ghost; and as He prayed the Spirit descended and rested upon Him. That is to say, He depended upon the Holy Ghost for the accomplishment of His ministry, just as we depend upon the Holy Ghost. Ask Him about His miracles. The answer comes, "I, by the Spirit of God, cast out devils." Ask Him concerning His great sacrifice for the sins of the world, and you read that He "through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot unto God." Ask concerning the giving of the great commission, and we read, "After that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandment unto the apostles." In a word, Jesus Christ depended upon the Holy Ghost from the beginning to the end of His ministry…    


Now, I want to deal just a moment upon having the Spirit. I think these phrases, “the baptism of the Holy Ghost" and the "anointing of the Holy Spirit," have bewildered a great many. Let me state what I believe the plainest putting of the matter: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I tell a sinner simply to accept Christ…"God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," and all that one has to do is to receive Him. Now, Jesus Christ went away, and the third Person of the Trinity came down. Just as truly as Jesus Christ for thirty-three years walked upon the earth, the Holy Ghost has been in the Church ever since the day of Pentecost. Now, young men and women, as you received Jesus Christ for your justification, have you solemnly received the Holy Ghost for your sanctification, for your power, for your Divine personal helper, so that henceforth He can use you completely? That is receiving the Holy Ghost. It is a simple experience of faith, and there are many that bear testimony to its reality.


But that is not all. There is the sun: what good is it except I have an eye? It can't bring its image upon the retina of my eye if I am blind. Here is the air all about, and I have the air; and yet I shall be a dead man unless the air has my lungs through which it can lay hold of me. This company of Christians here to-night I may represent as the lungs of the Holy Ghost; He is the air. Suppose that ninety out of one hundred of the air cells of the human lungs are stopped up, how can a man live and be in health? He has pneumonia. And so exactly it is in the Church of Jesus Christ. We have the Holy Ghost, but He must have us; He must be so related to us that we can inhale and exhale Him, that He may be in us while we are in Him. Blessed experience, if truly the Holy Ghost has possession of us!

Mary Geraldine Guinness Taylor (1865–1949), was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China, and author of many missionary biographies regarding the history of the China Inland Mission (renamed as Overseas Missionary Fellowship, (now geraldineOMF International). She was the daughter of the famous revivalist preacher and author Henry Grattan Guinness, a friend of James Hudson Taylor, founder of the CIM. She became Taylor's daughter-in-law when she married his son (and fellow CIM missionary), Frederick Howard Taylor. (wikipedia

One can understand from reading the following portion of her address how this eloquent young woman, who was not yet thirty years old, would be a lasting impression on many of the college students at the Convention:

  Do you know the Holy Spirit as a person, a personal reality, just as real as the Lord Jesus Christ, just as real as God the Father, one with whom you have to do in your daily life? Do you know what the communion of the Holy Ghost is? If not, seek Him now, oh, seek Him now. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you before He calls you out into the field at all. Friends, I can't put it into words, ---there are no words to express it,--- but if you know Him you will know it; if He is real to you, you will know it. He was not real to me when I went out to China in the sense that He is now. Thank God we all of us have the Holy Spirit in our hearts. But do we know Him as a friend to whom we can turn at all times to make the great realities of eternity real to us, to make impossible things possible to us, to fill our own hearts with Jesus, and fill our lives to reveal Jesus to others? We want Him here at home just as much as we do there. Will you, oh, will you seek to know Him more and more fully as you go on, and pray for us that we may know Him more? And let us commit our lives utterly to Him, because He can make us sufficient wherever we are to show forth the living Christ in all His gracious saving power…


Now, dear brothers and sisters, there is no reason why any one of us should go away from this city until the Holy Spirit of God has taken real, full, deep possession of our whole being, and transformed our lives, in some sense made us to be born again into a new life, a life in the power of the Holy Ghost. Will you prayerfully search your Bibles, or if you have already done so, do it again, to find what we are to expect from the Holy Spirit of God? I think, if you will look all the passages carefully over in which the Lord Jesus tells us what the Holy Spirit is given to us for, you will find, as I did not so very long ago, that He is really given just to meet the deepest needs of our souls, and to be to us just the very thing we long for most. Victory over sin, think of that! Read the sixth chapter of Romans, the seventh, the eighth of Romans, and if you pray over that and the Spirit enlightens your soul, you will see there that the fullest, the most complete and permanent victory over sin is promised to us through the Holy Ghost. And then liberty, liberty from self, from fear, from everything that would hinder us and keep us back from the fullest blessing, it is all promised to us in Him; the liberty that makes us free. If you know yourself in bondage to anything at all in your life that is keeping you back from what your life might be, oh, remember you will find in Him the promise of liberty, the fullest, deepest liberty of soul.    


And then that reproducing of the life of Christ. Take for example a passage in Second Corinthians, the life of Christ lived over again in us. Listen to this: "Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God;" and then further down in the chapter: "But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." That reproducing of the life of Christ, that re-incarnation that we heard about last night, that we all want so much in our lives, it is through Him. Everything we need is for us in Him, through Him, if we will only give over our lives to Him and believe in His power and wait before Him until He has complete possession of us and can manifest that power through our lives. Then, blessing to others, power with men, where does it all come from? "He that believeth on me, from him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake lie of the Spirit." There is not a need we have anywhere in our lives, there is not a blessing that we want, that is not secured for us in the indwelling fullness of the Spirit of God…  


And one night a stranger, almost a stranger, in a meeting said something to me about blessing and fullness of power in one's life. I said, " I know very little about it, but I want to know more, I want to know more about the power of the Holy Spirit," He turned to me and said, " What, don't you know the fullness of the Holy Spirit in your life?" That startled me. I had never thought of it before. I said, " No, I don't." Then I went away and thought about it, and I thought, that is just it, I don't know, I don't know what it is to have the real fullness of the Holy Ghost in my life. And then I began to pray for it.    


The next day two men from that man-of-war came up to speak about their souls. They wanted to find Christ. They were most un-godly men, but something had touched them, and they wanted to find Christ. And about three hours that Sunday afternoon I was with those two men, pointing them to Jesus, and I saw in everything I said to them something for myself. I just said to them, "Now, what you must do is this: you must just open your heart to receive Jesus Christ. He can do all that you need. That is just what you want. He is willing to come into your heart, and take possession of your heart, and save you for time and for eternity. You must receive Him, you must receive Jesus Christ as He is, all He is. You won't understand it just at first, but He will reveal Himself to you by degrees. Don't wait for feelings; don't wait to be any better; don't be kept back by fear you couldn't keep it, as you say; don't be kept back by fear of the result. Just take Him as He is, all He is, as you are, and let Him come into your heart and do all the rest." And in their difficulties, in their struggle, because it was a hard struggle with both those men, I saw my own life reflected; I saw that what I needed to do was just to take the Holy Spirit as I urged those men to take Jesus Christ, or rather to let Jesus Christ take them, to give over their lives to Him. And I saw that I needed to do the same, to give over my life to the Holy Spirit of God and just let Him come in all His grace and His fullness that I knew so little about, and take my life and make it what it ought to be. Of course, the first feeling was doubt about the result. What might He do? How far might one have to go? I had seen some lives that went far beyond mine, and I felt as if I could not live as they did; it was too much for me, ---such consecration to God, such devotion to His service, such utter death to self. I feared what might be the result of really being filled with the Spirit of God. When these men said the same thing about receiving Jesus, I said, "Don't you mind that; He will give you strength for whatever you need." And just talking to them like that made everything so clear to me. Those two men gave their hearts to Christ that day, and the next morning, the 21st of December, I never shall forget it, I gave my life to the Spirit of God.

   We have only been able to partake of a small portion of what was shared at the Student Foreign Missions Convention and from this taste maybe you have an inkling of the profound effect the speakers had on the then twenty-three year old Adventist college student struggling with the doctrine of the trinity. I imagine that being there was like coming home for our brother. He had found fellowship outside the church with people who spoke his “language.” We know this practice of mingling continues today in the name of ecumenism, missions and unity. Oh if the Adventist church could only understand what damage these forays are doing.

Lacey’s reaction to the Conference penetrated his mind so deeply that fifty-one years later he was able to recall certain speakers by name and elicite “vividly; the emphasis placed by all these teachers upon the ministry of the ‘Holy Ghost’ in our lives as God’s servants and missionaries, a ministry as of a real, definite, divine person, always with us, and in us, the Comforter as taught by Jesus Christ…” Brother Lacey goes on to relate to Elder Froom what the appeal and messages of these new teachers wrought in him.

On the voyage back to Australia during September 1895, I made that theme, the Personality and Work of the Holy Ghost, a special subject of study. And I became convinced for myself!  So when I was asked to conduct a series of Bible studies at the 9:00 o’clock hour at a convention in Cooranbong in 1896 I presented that theme…

While we have no records of this 1896 series of studies would it be safe to say that based on his testimony of trinitarian roots from the Church of England and a faith re-affirmed by those speakers at the Student Foreign Missions Convention just two years prior, our brother no longer wrestled with the doctrine of the trinity?  His theme of the “Personality and Work of the Holy Ghost” as expounded upon in Cooranbong may very well have been the first of its kind to be presented publicly in the Adventist Church. This was a marked departure from Deuteronomy 6:4, 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Psalms 139:7, the foundational Scripture verses the pioneers of the church had laid concerning the Father, Son and Spirit.

Brother Lacey also felt, as did Dr. Kellogg with his book The Living Temple, that Ellen White’s writings agreed with his suppositions as his letter to Froom states:

When the ‘Desire of Ages’ came out in 1898, Brother Daniells himself called my attention to the expression found on page 671, where the Spirit is spoken of as ‘the third person of the Godhead’ (I had not at that time seen a printed copy) and made some kindly comments. Later, in ‘Testimonies for the Church, Series B, No. 7’ on page 63 (Nov 1905) I found this paragraph:-

The Comforter that Christ promised to send after He ascended to heaven, is the Spirit in all the fullness of the Godhead, making manifest the power of divine grace to all who receive and believe in Christ as a personal Saviour. THERE ARE THREE LIVING PERSONS OF THE HEAVENLY TRIO; in the name of these three great powers – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will co-operate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life of Christ.

exactly as I had endeavored to teach 9 years previously.

In this same connection I was interested to note the language used in the article ‘The Holy Spirit in our Schools’ found in 8T. 61, 62, and bearing [the] date ‘May 10, 1896’ Cooranbong N. S. W., where every time the Holy Spirit is referred to, the pronouns ‘He,’ ‘Him,’ ‘His’ are employed. And He is called a ‘heavenly messenger’ ‘The heavenly guest’ repeatedly, and apparently ‘the great Teacher Himself.’

Here is a link to the original letter exchange between Elders Froom and Lacey.

  Also another letter written by Lacey in 1947 to A.W. Spalding will give more insights into his trinitarianism.  There again he points to his lectures and studies at Cooranbong in 1896 noting how Sister White followed in tow with his teachings in her writings. Because of this he could declare:

Since which time the doctrine of the Trinity has been established among us, - although, apparently, not fully accepted by all!

Conduct a personal study to discern for yourself if Sister White’s use of ‘three living persons of the heavenly trio,’ ‘Godhead,’ ‘three highest powers,’ or ‘three dignitaries’ is compatible with the trinity doctrine. Also see if ‘The mighty agency of the third person of the Godhead,’ ‘heavenly messenger,’ or ‘The heavenly guest’ is in sync with what is taught by Christendom, Lacey and the Adventist church today concerning the third person of the trinity. Compare her writings with the portions of the Convention addresses you found here to determine if she was teaching the same thing as those speakers. Her corrections and comments on the writings of William Boardman and rebuke to Dr. Kellogg will be good clues to the answer.

How does all this relate to LeRoy Froom?  As Herbert Lacey’s lectures may very well have been the first of its kind by an Adventist presenting the Holy Ghost as a “real, definite, divine person” remember George Knight stated, “Froom’s The Coming of the Comforter [was] the first book by an Adventist to feature the Holy Spirit as a Person.” Where did the ideas for his book come from?  We offer his personal confession:

May I here make a frank personal confession? When, back between 1926 and 1928, I was asked by our leaders to give a series of studies on the Holy Spirit, covering the North American union ministerial institutes of 1928, I found that, aside from priceless leads found in the Spirit of Prophecy, there was practically nothing in our literature setting forth a sound Biblical exposition in this tremendous field of study. There were no previous pathfinding books on the question in our literature.” (Leroy Edwin Froom, “Movement of Destiny”, p. 322 [1971])

“I was compelled to search out a score of valuable books written by men outside of our faith . . . men like Murray, Simpson, Gordon, Holden, Meyer, McNeill, Moody, Waugh, McConkey, Scroggie, Howden, Smith, McKensie, Mclntosh, Brooks, Dixon, Kyle, Morgan, Needham, Pierson, Seiss, Thomas, West, and a score of others—for initial clues and suggestions, and to open up beckoning vistas to intensive personal study. Having these, I went on from there. But they were decided early helps. And scores, if not hundreds, could confirm the same sobering conviction that some of these other men frequently had a deeper insight into the spiritual things of God than many of our own men then had on the Holy Spirit and the triumphant life. It was still a largely obscure theme.” (Ibid, page 324)

As brother Lacey before him, Elder Froom found a source for his beliefs on the Holy Spirit outside our faith. Two of the names, Pierson and Gordon have been highlighted and underlined. They match the names of two of the men who spoke to Herbert Lacey and the other delegates at the 1894 Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions Convention.

Brother Gordon’s book, The Ministry of the Holy Spirit, was published the same year as the Detroit Convention. Here are a couple of excerpts:

 Jesus Christ, the ever-living Son of God, is the one supreme answer to the restlessness and travail of our day. But he cannot, he will not reveal himself. Each person in the Holy Trinity reveals another. The Son reveals the Father, but his own revelation awaits the testimony of the Holy Ghost, which, though often given directly, is largely through the church. What we need then, and what the world is waiting for, is the Son of God, borne witness to and revealed in all his radiant beauty of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, as he energizes with and through the saints that make up the holy and mystical body, the church.”  

"It is evident that the present dispensation under which we are is the dispensation of the Spirit, or of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. To him in the Divine economy, has been committed the office of applying the redemption of the Son to the souls of men by the vocation, justification, and salvation of the elect. We are therefore under the personal guidance of the Third Person, as truly as the apostles were under the guidance of the Second."—Henry Edward Manning. (Quoted in The Ministry of the Spirit)

One year later brother Pierson’s book, Acts of the Holy Spirit, was published.

The new-born child of God know not and recognizes not his spiritual Begetter! What a challenge to those who preach and teach the gospel to see that disciples shall not grow up in ignorance of the Spirit’s character and work! and yet in how many churches is there systematic teaching upon the third Person of the Trinity?

Do you find it sad that Elder Froom could state, “scores, if not hundreds, could confirm the same sobering conviction that some of these other men frequently had a deeper insight into the spiritual things of God than many of our own men then had on the Holy Spirit and the triumphant life,” as the reason for going outside the Adventist faith for his quest, a faith that had been established for more than 75 years at that time?

From the evidence of their own words I have presented to you two prominent leading men in Adventism who struggled with the doctrine of the trinity. When Herbert Camden Lacey joined the Adventist church in 1888 he could not leave behind his trinitarian roots from the Church of England.

We shared previously that at the time of LeRoy Edwin Froom’s death he was working on a final book, The Holy Spirit - Executive of the Godhead. I have been unable to uncover the inception of his struggle over the trinity doctrine. We have numerous letters, articles and books documenting how he worked tirelessly to triumph over that conflict. If he were alive now he would be so proud to know that “our church today has taken a firm and unrelenting stand on this teaching,” but I for one tremble at this thought.

How does this change over time reveal to us the unfolding nature of truth? In your own experience, how have you grown in your understanding of truth? What beliefs did you once hold that, today, you no longer accept? (2012 Sabbath School lesson on the trinity Discussion Question)

And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. - (Romans 13:11-12 KJV)

Whether or not you are struggling over the doctrine of the trinity, I leave you with a few more points to ponder.

No man drops in one day from perfect faith to gross error; much less do multitudes of people apostatize all at the same time. Error is insidious in its working, and the people who fall away are rarely conscious that any change is taking place in them. (E.J. Waggoner, “Present Truth”, Jan. 30, 1902)

A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn’t the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn’t flat. When a well-packed web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic. (Dresden James)

If I depend on a teacher to expound to me (on Scripture), and he should guess at its meaning, or desire to have it so on account of his sectarian creed, or to be thought wise, then his guessing, desire, creed, or wisdom is my rule, and not the Bible.  (Ellen G. White, “Advent Review and Sabbath Herald”, November 25, 1884 par. 24)

As fundamental errors, we might class with this counterfeit Sabbath (Sunday worship) other errors which Protestants have brought away from the Catholic church, such as sprinkling for baptism, the trinity, the consciousness of the dead and eternal life in misery. The mass who have held these fundamental errors, have doubtless done it ignorantly; but can it be that the church of Christ will carry along with these errors till the judgement scenes burst upon the world?  We think not… This class who live just prior to the second advent will not be keeping the traditions of men, neither will they be holding fundamental errors relative to the plan of salvation through Christ. (James White, “Advent Review and Sabbath Herald”, March 6, 1855)  

God appointed the church to be the light of the world, and at the same time ordained that his Word should be the light of the church.  But when the church becomes unfaithful to her trust, and corrupts the pure doctrines of the gospel, as a natural consequence the world becomes intoxicated with her false doctrine. That the nations of the earth are in such a condition at the present time is too obvious to be denied.  The world is intoxicated in the pursuit of riches and honor, but the sin lies at the door of the church; for the church sanctions what the Lord strictly forbade, and she sets the example to the world.  If the church had not intoxicated the world with the wine of false doctrines, the plain truths of the Bible would powerfully move the public mind. (Ibid)


Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. - (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. - (1 Corinthians 8:6)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: - (Ephesians 1:3)

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. - (John 17:3)

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. - (1 John 5:20)

But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. - (Matthew 10:19-20)

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?…Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. - (Psalm 139:7; Psalm 51:10-12)